Making the invisible visible
The University of Washington is nationally recognized for its sustainable leadership: from building construction to business practices to training future leaders, UW is committed to advancing sustainability on many levels. The design of the new West Campus Utility Plant (WCUP) offered a unique opportunity to advance the University’s sustainability mission not only by reducing the environmental impact of new campus energy infrastructure but also by conveying a strong sustainability message through the design of the building itself. While most industrial scale infrastructure is hidden from view and inaccessible to the public, the WCUP is located at a prominent campus gateway. By providing windows into the process and exposing critical systems to public view, the invisible is made visible: the important services that we all rely on can be observed and understood rather than taken for granted.
The UW campus may be the only urban area in Seattle where industrial-scale chillers can be readily seen right from the sidewalk, and while the visibility of this equipment has an educational value in and of itself, the UW was also interested in using the project to tell the story of their commitment to sustainability in a manner that would be impactful and inspire action. Simply put: facts inform, but powerful stories resonate. To help tell these stories, a series of LCD displays were installed just inside the windows, providing a platform for student-produced content related to environmental programs on campus. While the building’s glowing polycarbonate screen wall acts as a “magnet” that draws in visitors from around the campus and the broader community, the screens at the pedestrian level resemble a kind of “portal”, an information-rich view into the University’s stewardship of the environment.
The Envision Gold certified WCUP project is the first Envision certified project at the University of Washington and the first Higher-Ed certified building project in the United States. Envision is an independent third party rating system designed specifically for Sustainable Infrastructure projects and was created to evaluate, grade and give recognition to infrastructure projects that provide progress and contributions for a sustainable future. Like the LEED Rating System, its purpose is to foster a necessary and dramatic improvement in the performance and resiliency of physical infrastructure across the full economic, social, and environmental dimensions of sustainability.